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MLB One-Year Wonders From the 2010s

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MLB one-year wonders seem to happen every decade. The 2010s saw a lot of different players shine in Major League Baseball. There were the constant stars such as Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, however, there were plenty of players who had one great season, and then faded away. These MLB one-year wonders from the past decade stand out from the rest in terms of the rise and fall of their stock.

MLB One-Year Wonders –– #10: Trevor Cahill, 2010

Trevor Cahill was only 22 years old when he broke out in his second year in the majors. In 2010, Cahill went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA (138 ERA+) and a 1.108 WHIP in 196.2 innings pitched. Furthermore, he was named to the All-Star Game and finished ninth in the Cy Young voting.

There was some cause for concern though, as Cahill’s FIP of 4.19 and his low strikeout total painted a much bleaker picture. Sure enough, Cahill was never able to duplicate his success. He hasn’t made an All-Star team since, and he’s struggled to even meet league-average standards. Overall, Cahill has a career 4.20 ERA (98 ERA+) and a 1.364 WHIP. His 2010 was definitely an MLB one-year wonder.

MLB One-Year Wonders –– #9: Chase Headley, 2012

Chase Headley never made an All-Star Game in his career, and never was regarded as a power-hitter. In 2012, however, Headley shocked everyone with a monstrous season in which he hit .286/.376/.498 (145 OPS+) with 31 homers and an NL-best 115 RBIs. Headley also had 6.4 rWAR, won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, and finished fifth in the MVP voting.

Headley’s production took a nose-dive after that magical 2012 season. His OPS never again came close to .800 and he didn’t get any other accolades. In fact, when Headley retired in 2018 his career slugging percentage was below .400.

MLB One-Year Wonders –– #8: Edward Mujica, 2013

Previously, Edward Mujica had made my list of obscure All-Stars from the 2010s for his work in the 2013 season. It was during that season Mujica assumed the Cardinals’ closer role from the injured Jason Motte. Mujica ran with his role, making the All-Star Game while pitching to a 2.78 ERA and racking up 37 saves. Similar to Cahill though, Mujica’s peripherals were far less impressive, and he regressed in the ensuing years. He last pitched in the majors in 2017 and finished his career with a pedestrian 3.92 ERA/3.94 FIP (101 ERA+).

MLB One-Year Wonders –– #7: John Axford, 2011

John Axford had a similar ascent to Mujica, except Axford took over for the legendary Trevor Hoffman in 2010. After a strong initial showing, Axford was downright dirty in 2011. The Canadian righty pitched to a stellar 1.95 ERA/2.41 FIP, a 1.140 WHIP, and struck out 86 batters in 73.2 innings (10.5 K/9) while saving an NL-best 46 games. He was recognized by earning the NL Rolaids Relief Award, finishing ninth in Cy Young Voting, and 17th in MVP voting.

Axford was never the same after 2011 and he often struggled with his control, regularly averaging north of five walks per nine innings. Axford never again pitched to an ERA below 3.90 or a WHIP below 1.30. He retired after the 2018 season, finishing his career with a 3.87 ERA, a 1.414 WHIP, and 144 saves, meaning that almost a third of his saves came in his magical 2011 season.

MLB One Year Wonders –– #6: Ricky Romero, 2011

The Blue Jays had high hopes for Romero when they took him sixth overall in the 2005 Draft. In 2011, he began to show signs that he was the ace of the future when he made his first All-Star Game and finished 10th in Cy Young voting. Over 225 innings, Romero had a 2.92 ERA (146 ERA+), a 1.138 WHIP, and 178 strikeouts (7.1 K/9).

The problem is that Romero’s 4.20 FIP from 2011 accurately predicted his drop-off in the following seasons. In 2012, Romero struggled with control, issuing a major league-worst 108 walks and having his ERA of 5.77. In 2013, Romero only pitched 7.1 innings and he hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since.

MLB One-Year Wonders –– #5: Daniel Nava, 2013

Nava may be one of the biggest MLB one-year wonders in history –– not just because of his 2013 season, but because of how he got to the majors. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008, and for a while was best known for hitting a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues.

In 2013, however, Nava got the chance to be an everyday player and he had by far the most successful year of his career. His season seemed to take off after he hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the Red Sox’s first game back at Fenway Park following the Boston Marathon bombing. Nava hit .303/.385/.445 (127 OPS+) with 12 homers and 66 RBIs, helping the Red Sox win the World Series.

2013 was the only full season in which Nava had an OPS above .800. He retired following the 2017 season, finishing his career with a batting line of .266/.357/.380 (102 OPS+) with 29 homers in 589 career games.

MLB One Year Wonders –– #4: Zack Cozart, 2017

Zack Cozart was a highly-touted prospect coming up through the Reds’ organization. After years of underperforming, Cozart finally broke out in 2017, hitting a strong .297/.385/.548 (140 OPS+) with 24 homers, 63 RBI, and 5.1 rWAR. He made his first All-Star Game and as a result, earned a nice three-year $38 million contract from the Angels that offseason.

Unfortunately for the Angels, Cozart became one of MLB’s one-year wonders, as he battled injuries and was unproductive when he played. The Angels traded Cozart to the Giants in December of 2019, and he was released shortly thereafter. To this point, Cozart has a weak .247/.300/.399 career batting line, truly making him one of the top-five MLB one-year wonders of the decade.

MLB One-Year Wonders –– #3: Michael Saunders, 2016

These next three players may not just be MLB one-year wonders, they may be considered “half-year wonders.” Michael Saunders was fantastic in the first half of the 2016 season. He was hitting .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers and 42 RBIs at the All-Star Break and won the final vote to make his first All-Star Game. Saunders though saw his production completely fall off in the second half, hitting just .178/.282/.357 with eight homers and 15 RBIs.

The Phillies gave Saunders a one-year contract worth $8 million that offseason, but he was released not even halfway through the 2017 season after struggling to a .205/.257/.360 (61 OPS+) batting line. The Blue Jays picked up the Canadian outfielder later in 2017, but he continued to struggle and hasn’t played in the majors since. All told, Saunders has an anemic .232/.305/.397 (94 OPS+) career batting line.

MLB One-Year Wonders –– #2: Domonic Brown, 2013

In 2010, Domonic Brown was ranked as the best prospect in all of baseball. After struggling for a few seasons, Brown finally showed flashes of greatness in 2013. That season, he hit .272/.324/.494 (124 OPS+) with 27 homers, 83 RBIs, and 3.2 rWAR. Brown made the All-Star Game, during this time, he hit .273/.320/.535 with 23 homers and 67 RBIs in the first half of the season.

In the second half of the season, Brown hit just .270/.333/.390 with only four homers and 16 RBIs. Brown’s numbers only got worse from there, only putting up a .634 OPS and negative-1.0 rWAR in the following two seasons. He’s been out of the majors since 2015.

MLB One-Year Wonders –– #1: Jeff Locke, 2013

It’s crazy to think that a player with a career negative-1.3 rWAR made an All-Star Game, but Jeff Locke somehow did. The upstart Pirates sent five players to the 2013 All-Star Game, and Locke was rewarded for his fantastic first half with a selection. His first numbers were quite strong –– he had an 8-2 record with a 2.15 ERA, a 1.128 WHIP, and 73 strikeouts in 109 innings pitched (6.0 K/9).

Soon enough though, the league figured Locke out, and he came crashing down to earth in the second half. He had a disastrous 6.12 ERA and 1.866 WHIP in 57.1 innings pitched. That August, just six weeks after being named to the All-Star Game, Locke was sent down to Double-A. Furthermore, Locke was left off the Pirates’ playoff roster, and he never was able to regain the success he had in the first half of 2013. He last pitched in the majors for the Marlins in 2017 and has a career 4.59 ERA (83 ERA+) and 1.428 WHIP. Locke might not just be one of the biggest MLB one-year wonders of the 2010s, he might be one of the biggest in history.

Closing Thoughts on MLB One-Year Wonders

The 2010s saw many MLB one-year wonders, and some couldn’t even sustain their success over the course of a full season. While these ten players’ success may have been short-lived, may their success never be forgotten.

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Mathias is a graduate student at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. He is currently studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism on the Sports Media and Communications track. He graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2021, where he studied journalism and served as the Sports Editor and Opinions Editor for the school's newspaper, The Signal. He joined Overtime Heroics as a writer in June of 2019 and became an editor in December of 2020 before taking over the MLB department in June of 2021. Mathias is also a former varsity swimmer and is the youngest of five kids.